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Petraeus and the Unrealistic Expectations of a Coed Military

 

PAUL writes:

Petraeus is a victim of his own policy: encouraging men and women to serve privately, lengthily, and closely with one another. I can’t speak for a married man, as he is, but I can speak as a single man. If I had been placed in as private, lengthy, and close contact with a married woman as nice looking as the General’s paramour, I think it extremely unlikely I could have resisted the temptation. This is a major reason I oppose women (and analogously homosexuals) in the military.

Laura writes:

We’ll never know how many less prominent military marriages have been destroyed by the close contact between men and women in the armed forces today. Paula Broadwell was not serving in the military at the time of their relationship, but she was a graduate of West Point and part of the same phenomenon. As U.S. Navy Capt. Kevin Eyer recently wrote,

Casual observers—civilians and those who have never served in a fully integrated combat unit—seem convinced that men and women can, and are, serving together with a cheerful disregard for one another’s gender. This is ridiculous. Physical interaction is the natural and inevitable result of male/female contact and it always will be. Look at the sheer mass of evidence: Record numbers of commanding officers, executive officers, and command master chiefs are being sacked for personal misconduct. If they who have so very much to lose aren’t being good, how can we expect our sailors to behave?

—- Comments —–

Jane S. writes:

For once, I find myself in sharp disagreement with commenters on several of my regular blogs, not that I support women in the military.

Laura quotes U.S. Navy Capt. Kevin Eyer: “Physical interaction is the natural and inevitable result of male/female contact and it always will be.”

But extramarital affairs are natural and inevitable because people no longer heed the Sxth Commandment and no longer believe that they risk everlasting damnation by breaking it. Fear of scandal or divorce alone would not be enough of a deterrent.

I usually enjoy Camera Lucida, but according to Kidist Paulos Asrat, the Petraeus affair was made inevitable because Mrs. Petraeus allowed herself to transform into a frumpy middle-aged woman with a bad hairdo. Blaming Mrs. Petraeus for her husband’s infidelity is crass. It isn’t as bad as blaming the Krims for hiring a psychotic child-murdering nanny, but it belongs in the same category.

 Laura writes:

I also thought that Kidist went too far in saying the affair was inevitable. [Actually, in reading over her entry, she does not say the affair was inevitable so I take that back. Lawrence Auster says it was “well-nigh inevitable” for several reasons mentioned by Kidist. I think the attraction between Petraeus and Broadwell was inevitable, not the affair.] Holly Petraeus was remiss in not taking care of her appearance, and I think Kidist was right in pointing that out, but I would add that Holly never could have made herself as attractive as Broadwell. Also, Petraeus might still be expected to see some of his wife’s former loveliness, qualities that we cannot see from pictures, and one would expect that he would be able to notice the brashness and aggressiveness of Broadwell. Then again, let’s face it, looks are important even to long-married spouses.

Paul also suggests that a person has no choice but to commit adultery when in close contact with an attractive coworker, which is obviously not true. But he’s right about the temptations.  While the temptations created by these circumstances are never the cause of adultery, and only an interior decision to participate in an act of betrayal is the cause, intimacy in the workplace creates serious temptation that wouldn’t be there otherwise and the military is placing private relations in harm’s way by condoning this, as Paul rightly points out.

In the case of Petraeus, the easiest thing for him to have done would have been to stop spending so much time with Broadwell.

 Carolyn writes:

I also have noticed that Mrs. Broadwell has two small children. Excuse my old-fashioned thinking, but why does a mother cavort all over the world and leave two little children? The family obviously wasn’t needing the money. There is something very eerie about seeing military women go off to war and leaving the young ones behind. For Pete’s sake: raise your children!

I used to think, in my idealistic younger days that of course men and women could work and spend tons of time together and be faithful to their spouse. Not true! One reason our divorce rate is so high is that the dressed-up, made-up women..and men, are a lot more attractive than the spouse at home doing necessary work in old clothes.

That’s why doors are always left open in many offices when men and women are together. And in our church, no riding to meetings alone with two adults married to other people. It is just wise. It’s “only natural” that stuff happens!

Laura writes:

You ask why Broadwell was cavorting about the world when she had children at home. Well, West Point and the Kennedy School at Harvard couldn’t possibly have prepared her for motherhood, for running a home and being a wife, could they?

I suspect that she was cavorting around the world precisely because she had two children and because she had a real home that demanded attention. In all likelihood, she did not want to be with her children or take on either of these tasks because they were too alien from everything she had been trained and encouraged to do and from all that she worshipped.

Carolyn writes:

One reason our divorce rate is so high is that the dressed-up, made-up women..and men, are a lot more attractive than the spouse at home doing necessary work in old clothes.

Yes, yes, yes. A hundred times yes.

Men, it seems, have lost all of their instincts when it comes to keeping their wives away from other men. I have a hard time feeling sorry for Broadwell’s husband. What was he thinking when he allowed her to go off every day? Why did he marry someone so unsuited to loving him? I guess he too was bowled over by Broadwell’s decadent vitality and attractiveness. Also, he might have liked the fact that she was going to earn big bucks. Life in Washington, or wherever else they lived, is very expensive.

James N. writes:

Jane S said, “But extramarital affairs are natural and inevitable because people no longer heed the Sixth Commandment and no longer believe that they risk everlasting damnation by breaking it. Fear of scandal or divorce alone would not be enough of a deterrent.”

Doesn’t Jane S.’s Bible have an Old Testament?

The only modernist feature of this sorry episode is the emails. The rest of it is straight out of 2 Samuel.

The correct response is not to condemn modern people who no longer heed the 6th commandment. The correct response is to point out the consequences of failing to avoid near occasions of sin. “Lead us not into temptation” is a prayer, after all, not a marketing slogan.

A man and a woman who are not married to each other should not have the type of prolonged intimacy that Gen. Petraeus and Mrs. Broadwell shared, period.

Laura writes:

Agreed.

But this sort of prolonged intimacy is common in the contemporary workplace and even on the military front lines.

Mary writes:

If Kidist Paulos Asrat could tell us where that magic sweet spot of womanhood is – the one that lies between vanity and indifference, sexy and frumpy, old and young, too much and not enough, the one in which you don’t attract other men while simultaneously rendering your husband impermeable to the allure and advances of younger women – I would greatly appreciate it. We women need to know.

Laura writes:

Moderation is essential in all of these areas. Neither vanity nor the sort of self-fortgefulness that leads to neglect of one’s appearance are good.

Jane S. writes:

Yes, my Bible has an Old Testament. Last time I checked, that’s where the ten commandments are.

No, Holly Petraeus is not negligent of her appearance. Her hair is combed. She looks like she takes a bath. Her clothes are laundered and age-appropriate. She is probably 20 years older than Broadwell and there is nothing she can do about that. Kidist did not say the affair was inevitable, but she implies that it was and she blames Holly Petraeus in part for it. What a mean, nasty thing to do.

Laura writes:

Judging from the photo posted at VFR in which she appears in dumpy slacks, she was negligent of her appearance.

Karen I. writes:

Holly Petraeus reminds me of the late Elizabeth Edwards. They were both lovely as young women, but became heavy, unkempt older women. Elizabeth Edwards had the added burden of severe illness, but we don’t know if Holly Petraeus has medical issues as well, which contributed to the downfall in her looks. I read one commentary on Mrs. Edwards long ago and it said that the average person cannot imagine what it is like to have a spouse in a very powerful, demanding job that requires a lot of travel, like John Edwards or David Petraeus. The commentator said that the loneliness leads women to find comfort in food, alcohol and other unhealthy choices that take a toll on their appearance. I think that is true. Women like Holly Petraeus have to be very careful. They must protect their husband’s reputation all the time, even when he isn’t around for months on end, or is running around the world with another woman. It must be very difficult.

Having said that, Holly Petraeus did let herself go. There is no easy answer as to how any woman should approach their appearance, especially as they get older, but her approach of giving up entirely isn’t the way to go. I like the idea of trying to look good for one’s age and circumstances. People seem to respond positively when a woman appears to be trying to look nice, regardless of her age. My mother did some work as a model in her teens, and she was stunning. Unfortunately, she pretty much let herself go. But now and then, she does her hair, puts on some makeup and wears something pretty. When she does that, she is still stunning.

Laura writes:

While being the wife of a public figure involves serious demands and stresses, it also comes with many benefits: money, travel, the opportunity to meet many new people.

Izzy writes:

Interesting tibdit (in a Daily Beast article) which reveals the dedication of Mrs. Petraeus to her husband and children:

“Holly took the traditional notion of an Army wife to a new level, building a legacy and reputation of her own even as her husband oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rose to lead the CIA. She followed David faithfully throughout his steady rise, moving 23 times in 36 years. (Petraeus once publicly thanked Holly for being ‘Mrs. Dad for the bulk of the last decade while I’ve been deployed.’ “

Karen I. writes:

I agree that there are many benefits to being married to a public figure. Holly Petraeus could have used her money to buy a gym membership, makeup, the help of a good hairdresser, great clothes and more. Money goes a long way towards an improvement in appearance. But, men cheat even on beautiful wives so that might not have stopped him. Her appearance did not help, no doubt, and it is now bringing her a lot of criticism that must be hard to take. Perhaps Holly Petraeus will wind up being one of those women who get divorced and suddenly lose a ton of weight that she just couldn’t before, no matter how hard she tried. The revenge diet seems to be remarkably effective.

One thing I find interesting about the whole scandal is the way Broadwell allegedly wrote threatening e-mails to another women she thought Petraeus was interested in. It was o.k. for him to cheat, but only with her. With all her education, Broadwell was apparently too stupid to realize that men who cheat often keep right on cheating. When I was growing up, that was the sort of thing mothers told their daughters. So, when married men hit on us as we got older, we had the sense to laugh like they must be joking and keep right on walking. It wasn’t hard to do.

Laura writes:

I don’t think there is evidence that Petraeus cheated with this third woman. Broadwell’s threats to this woman are in keeping with her aggressiveness and a life of getting everything she wanted.

Carolyn writes:

Karen, I agree. Men cheat on all kinds of wives. I am in great shape, the same weight as at 18, active, talented, kept busy and we had a great family and friends, but that didn’t stop the lure of “something different.” Such is life.

Laura writes:

Obviously, men cheat on beautiful wives too, and no matter what a wife does it may make no difference in terms of preventing infidelity, but that doesn’t mean that a wife can’t sometimes do things to make it less likely.

James N. writes:

Jane S replied, “Yes, my Bible has an Old Testament. Last time I checked, that’s where the ten commandments are.”

Presumably, you will also find Uriah the Hittite (he wasn’t even a radiologist!), and Samson, and Jezebel, and the whole Book of Proverbs.

My point was not that Petraeus and Mrs. Broadwell didn’t violate one (or more) of the Big Ten, rather, it was that the Big Ten are necessary BECAUSE OF THE WAY WE ARE, and that this was as true when that other David first saw Bathsheba as it was when David Petraeus saw Mrs. Broadwell.

 Laura writes:

Speaking of David, he was utterly smitten with Bathsheba’s beauty and had several wives. It wouldn’t have mattered what they looked like. The temptation was there and his choice was the decisive factor.

Jane S. adds:

James N. writes:

My point was not that Petraeus and Mrs. Broadwell didn’t violate one (or more) of the Big Ten, rather, it was that the Big Ten are necessary BECAUSE OF THE WAY WE ARE, and that this was as true when that other David first saw Bathsheba as it was when David Petraeus saw Mrs. Broadwell.

James N. misunderstands me. That was my point as well.

Jane S. writes:

It makes me sick the way people are blaming Holly Petraeus for her husband’s infidelity, as if a more flattering hairdo or more stylish clothes would somehow inoculate him from being attracted to a woman 20 years younger than her. I can’t believe people would actually believe such a thing. The fact that they are all over the traditionalist blogosphere makes it even worse.

Laura writes:

Does it bother you that I have suggested Broadwell’s husband was partly to blame too?

SEE other entries on the Petraeus affair here and here.

John Purdy writes:

Of course blaming Holly Petraeus for her husband’s infidelity, regardless of her appearance would be outrageous. Nonetheless, most older women, especially those in high profile marriages, are able at least to project an image of substance. Consider Margaret Thatcher. Not exactly svelte but her image was serious and substantial. I’m speculating but I would suggest Mrs. Petraeus is suffering from a mild form of depression possibly due to her husband’s long deployments overseas and long hours. Who knows but it’s not inevitable for a middle class woman to look like that in her later years.

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